Man of the Year

The Houston Chronicle took time out from its busy holiday schedule to thank its readers for making Houston "the vibrant city that it is."

In a full-page ad on New Year's Day, the Chron told Houstonians, "It's you who make it easy for us to come to work each day." (Hey, don't mention it.) The paper took the opportunity to plug itself: "Just look at some of the changes in the Houston Chronicle in 2002!" it screamed.

Among the 11 changes listed were a new editor and ombudsman and such stirring achievements as "We followed the progress and delays of our streets under construction" and "Election coverage grew to include more news of the candidates and the new eSlate system" (a claim somewhat undercut by the ad's inability to spell correctly the word "gubernatorial").

While the Chron proudly cited that "Special new sections and stories celebrated the Texans, Houston's first NFL franchise since 1996," we feel it sold itself short.

For the top story of 2002, as far as the Houston Chronicle was concerned, was the apparent grassroots campaign to have the Vatican declare Texans owner Bob McNair a saint.

What a year it was in the pages of the Chron for McNair. No opportunity was missed to tout the owner's greatness. "During the [interview], he's exactly the man that friends describe: fiercely competitive, unfailingly polite, seemingly unwavering in his Christian faith and a person who hasn't forgotten his own bumpy road to financial security," went one of the several lengthy profiles. "From his closest friends to those who know him only through business associations, people lavish praise on him, speaking of his honesty and good judgment and pointing to him as a role model in every good sense of the phrase."

The lead on a news story about one of McNair's horses winning a race in November: "It seems only fitting that on Texas Champions Day, local businessman and sports hero Bob McNair captured his first stakes victory at Sam Houston Race Park."

And that's only the objective news reporting. The columnists have latitude to let it rip, and two of them did in their end-of-season wrap-ups in December: "We tossed Bob McNair the keys to our city's heart," columnist John P. Lopez wrote, "and he took us on a memorable inaugural ride through the NFL, like some kind of surrogate father of football in this town."

True, the city lost talented former Oilers like Steve McNair, Dale Robertson wrote. "But we also lost Bud [Adams, Tennessee Titans owner] while gaining a different McNair's class and largess."

A sampling of 2002 Chron headlines: "McNair Deserves Much Credit for Job Well Done," "Patience, Tenacity Pay Off for Texans Owner," "McNair More Than Happy to Share Good Fortune" and (our favorite) "McNair Patient With 2- and 4-Legged Athletes."

Another 2002 highlight was an April editorial headlined "Texans Teamwork." It praised McNair and the Texans for "commendably doing what they can to avoid or mitigate as much controversy as they can" by adding a Hispanic to the team's ownership group.

The move came nine months after McNair announced his original set of fellow investors, which didn't include any Hispanics even though there are at least several Hispanics in Houston, at last count. The Chron editorial said McNair had been criticized for that, but he sure hadn't been criticized in the pages of the Chronicle.

When the original lineup was announced, the paper noted the 11 men in it included "three ethnic minorities": a black, an Asian and billionaire Fayez Sarofim, a native of Egypt.

It wasn't until the local LULAC chapter protested the slight that the Chron mentioned the omission. "McNair revealed a diverse list of investors last week," it then reported, "but the group did not include a Hispanic or a woman."

The Chron's editorial pages decided not to weigh in on the matter until it was rectified (McNair's reversing himself was more or less inevitable, given the NFL's high-profile efforts to woo Hispanic fans). "McNair received due praise from the League of United Latin American Citizens for his response to their concerns expressed several months ago," the editorial proclaimed.

The paper's news section apparently didn't always get the memos that went to the sports and editorial departments, and did stories in 2002 describing how McNair's limo got a police escort to and from games, cruising blithely past traffic-jammed fans.

Ably coming to McNair's defense, the editorial page noted the escort was "requested by the National Football League" and that "a security expert might argue that a restricted motorcycle escort stuck in traffic would serve to mark the target rather than shield it."

We can only wonder what's left for 2003 when it comes to covering the greatness that is McNair. Whatever it is, we're sure we'll read about it in the pages of the Chron.

We're Doomed, Kids!

The past year also brought new evidence of how KHOU's celebrated meteorologist, Dr. Neil Frank, takes intense pleasure in whipping up fears of Houston being hit by a massive hurricane -- a "hurricane" that usually, after days of ferocious hyping on Channel 11 by the burr-headed weatherman, ends up being a tropical depression that makes landfall in Alabama. (Insert standard disclaimer here that one of these days, Frank will be right and will be able to gloat as he stands among the ruins of a ravaged Houston.)

This past holiday season, we personally learned just how much of a jones Frank has for this stuff. Visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we went downstairs to the children's area. Like other such kid-friendly exhibits at museums around the country, there was a setup where a local TV station sponsored a mini-studio for the young'uns to pretend they were on a TV news show, reading from a TelePrompTer while being "broadcast" on a monitor.

KHOU was the proud sponsor of this exhibit, and it involved Frank doing a brief taped introduction and then tossing it "to our guest meteorologist" for further details. At which point the kid whose turn it was would stand on his mark, point to the map and read the copy as it scrolled down the screen.

Truly heartwarming it was to see the wide-eyed youngsters struggle their way through the script. Especially as their eyes got ever and ever wider as they read about the "killer hurricane" barreling down on Houston. "If you live in Galveston and haven't evacuated yet," the copy said, you were all but dead. "All of Galveston Island will be under water in an hour."

Trying desperately to banish thoughts of Gramps and Nana drowning in their Pirates Beach condo, the kids soldiered on, the blood draining from their faces as descriptions of the carnage continued to roll. Those who made it through the script ended by tossing it back to a beaming Frank.

We couldn't tell if the weatherman was so happy because his dream of destruction had finally come true, or if he had succeeded in scaring the bejesus out of yet another generation of Houstonians.

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